How to Get Away with Murder: An Intersectional Analysis of Wes Gibbins


Jesse Mayo




TA: Sarah















How to Get Away with Murder is a show documenting the legal cases of lawyer Annalise Keating, the “Keating 5” –  five first-year law students, and Annalise’s associates, Bonnie and Frank. For this paper, I will focus on one character: Wes Gibbins. Wes is undoubtedly Annalise’s favourite student. Wes is a young black law student, and was only accepted to the school from a waitlist. He lives in the poor part of the community and graduated from a community college. Wes is an interesting character to analyze because the writers of How to Get Away with Murder have portrayed him in such a way that he defies almost all stereotypes that we have come to expect from black men in the media.

One of the first cases that Keating and her five choice students work on is the defence of Rebecca Sutter. She was accused of killing her close friend, Lila Stangard. Rebecca also happens to be Wes’ neighbour and later, girlfriend. At first glance, it might seem that Wes is taking advantage of Rebecca. After all, she is in a rather vulnerable position. Rebecca is white and as Stuart Hall writes in The Whites of Their Eyes, there have been “racist stereotypes that have been used throughout US history … stereotypes of dark men desiring and preying on innocent white womanhood” (81). When first analyzing the relationship between Rebecca and Wes, this seems like what we would expect from a popular television show. Despite this, Rebecca and Wes are portrayed as having a rather healthy relationship – at least as healthy as it can be when murder is involved. Furthermore, John Solomos and Les Black write in their piece Races, Racism and Popular Culture that often popular culture will portray black men as “ignorant, uncouth and driven by sexual lust” (247). Wes’ character is able to defy this as he and Rebecca develop their relationship slowly and actually wait quite a while before having sex. This is important because popular culture very rarely shows healthy and desirable interracial relationships which can enforce the idea that they are bad or unhealthy.

On the other side of the spectrum, Hall also describes an oft used racist stereotype, “the familiar slave-figure; dependable, loving in a simple, childlike way” (21). Wes can often be seen in this stereotype. The other members of his group of friends often refer to him as the “puppy” of the group because he is childlike in a way. Annalise also views him as a sort of son, which reinforces the idea that he is loving in a childlike way. Wes also suffers nightmares similar to how a child would. There have been several scenes where Rebecca has had to wake Wes from a nightmare to comfort him. All of these attributes contribute to this particular stereotype. This innocence stereotype can become harmful as it may seem that black men are only seen as non-dangerous and “safe” when they are infantilized. Later in the show, Wes breaks this stereotype by turning on Annalise. In this situation, the rest of the group become somewhat frightened of him. It seems that the writers of How to Get Away with Murder have a difficult time finding a balance for Wes’ character where he can be respected and valid without being infantilized or demonized.

Furthermore, Wes comes from a poor background. It is not mentioned often, but the audience is made aware that his mother died when he was 12, he graduated from a community college and only got into Middleton Law School off of the waitlist. Despite all of this, Wes is treated as an equal by both his peers and his teachers. At first, his friends refer to him as “waitlist”, referring to his last minute acceptance to the school. However, Wes quickly proves himself and the others learn to respect him. This is unusual for a popular culture piece because often poor black men are portrayed in a negative light, often playing the role of criminal. This type of representation is important because it teaches any black man who comes from a similar background as Wes’ character that he is able to pursue his dreams if he works for them, just like anybody else. Later in the show, Wes is forced to kill Sam Keating – Annalise’s white husband – in order to save Rebecca. It would be expected that after killing a white man, Wes would be demonized and ostracized but instead, he is celebrated for doing what is right (it is revealed that Sam killed Lila earlier in the show). Annalise vows to protect him and the rest of the group who were indirectly involved, which reinforces the fact that Wes is valid and worth protecting.

Many of the other characters in the show are portrayed in similar ways to Wes, which is why it is worth mentioning the thought from John Storey, “human biology does not divide people into different “races”; it is racism that insists on this division” (167).  This raises the question of whether the writers of How to Get Away with Murder are attempting to make a statement about race or if they are trying not to at all. Wes is a well-rounded character who has flaws and positive attributes like any regular human being. It seems like his character is revolutionary in some ways and stereotypical in others. It is important to intersectionally analyze characters like Wes because it gives insight onto the impacts that they can have on the people who watch the show. While not all audience members will analyze Wes’ every action from an intersectional standpoint, often these messages are absorbed subconsciously which is why it is important for popular culture creators to be held to high standards. Overall, it seems that How to Get Away with Murder is challenging the norm of the typical stereotypical black male and is doing a rather good job of it.







Works Cited

Black, Les. “Races, Racism and Popular Culture.” GNDS125 Course Reader. By John Solomos. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 247-56. Print.

Hall, Stuart. “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media.” GNDS125 Course Reader. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 18-22. Print.

Storey, John. “‘Race’, Racism and Representation.” GNDS125 Course Reader. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 167-80. Print.




How to Get Away with Murder – Alienating the Privileged (Asher Millstone)

        Our perception of the world around us is influenced greatly by the media and popular culture which we consume. According to Stuart Hall, “media acts as an important site for the production, reproduction and transformation of ideologies” (Hall 19). The encoding and decoding process society actively partakes in when assessing media, allows consumers the freedom to accept or reject the ideas that the producers set forth (Milestone and Meyer 156). It is through these multiple meanings and interpretations that societies norms are enforced and presented, as a framework to understand the interlocking forms of power and oppression. These ideologies most often produce a ‘false consciousness’, using distorted images of reality which work in the interests of the “powerful” (Storey 3). However, it is becoming increasingly evident that popular culture is attempting to steer away from these false representations of the “powerless” and rise above, to produce newly formed ideologies, that better portray minorities in the system of imbalanced power. Through her hit TV series “How to Get Away with Murder,” Shonda Rhimes has done just that by deviating away from the typical portrayal of accepted norms usually seen on television. How to Get Away with Murder challenges the hegemonic Western view of the white privileged male through the alienation of Asher Millstones character in a group of predominately marginalized individuals.

        Asher Millstone is a straight, white, cisgender male who embodies characteristics which follow the discourses of masculinity that Western society upholds. Traditional masculinity identifies the male through a combination of physical attributes, economic wealth and independence. This places strength and power, most often driven by one’s work, as the most important factors in representing masculinity (Milestone and Meyer 114). As well, the ideal man is associated with “not expressing any emotions, considering them in the realm of women rather than men,” and known for their sexually driven objectification of women in order to satisfy their desires (Milestone and Meyer 115). Shonda uses Millstones character to represent this stereotypical view of the male by presenting him as a strong minded, outspoken, arrogant and insensitive individual who comes from a wealthy economic background. Through sleeping with multiple women, and not showing any ‘weak’ emotions when excluded from the group, Asher adheres to the tough masculinity society sets out the norm to be. As Asher develops throughout the series, the audience is shown his vulnerable side specifically, when it comes to his want for more than just a one-night stand but, a meaningful relationship instead. Later, it becomes clear that his act of toughness was a defensive mechanism in order to protect his deeper feelings.  It is typically the female who is desperate in trying to win over the male’s heart while in this case, the roles are reversed. Through the expressions of his emotions, Asher explores a vulnerable side that is not usually depicted or associated with the heterosexual man in pop culture. However, where Asher lacks control is his understanding of others due to his powerful privileged position in society as a white, heteronormative, upper class male.


Asher coins the nickname “Douche face” due to his fellow classmate’s impression of him as the entitled, aggressive and the ignorant rich white kid, who has been handed success since he was born. Typically, popular culture depicts his type of character as the lead role, placing the most power in his hands and presenting experiences to the audience from the white privilege point of view. Meanwhile, the supporting characters belonging to marginalized groups are restricted under his power. For example, the “popular jock” is often seen as the tough, white male while his friends that follow his lead come from unconventional backgrounds. However, How to Get Away with Murder does the opposite by deeming Asher as the outcast, through the rejection of his thoughts and opinions while he remains under the control of his black female boss. Asher is often caught making insulting comments or gestures that offend group members, coming off as racist, homophobic or misogynistic. Although, his intentions are not directed towards insulting others and it is not done out of malice. Millstone lacks the knowledge and understanding of the multitude of positions in society held by others who are of a different race, class, gender etc. than himself. Asher holds an egocentric and Eurocentric outlook on life, that stems from his sheltered experiences growing up in a position of advantage. It is his failure to recognize the hardships the other characters have faced and overcome every day, to achieve success because of their identities. The fact that he is unaware of filtering out what is inappropriate to express coming from his position, illustrates he is oblivious to experiencing the world from a position other than the white privilege he has grown up knowing. One where the dominant ideologies reflect to benefit his power. It is not to say Asher has not gone through hardships as well but, the reason for his struggles are not because he is white. While, for so many marginalized groups, race, class or gender is the underlying factor determining the restrictions they face.

Overall, How to Get Away with Murder goes against many of pop culture’s norms by promoting the reality of a diverse range of individuals and the hardships they endure on a daily basis due to their position in society, which do not follow the norms. Shonda Rhimes effectively conveys the message of empowering those who are typically oppressed in the mainstream media by reversing the hegemonic perspective of society. It is important not to erase the intersecting factors that contribute to one’s identity such as race, class, culture or gender in order to view all as equal. Instead it is crucial to recognize the differences in individual backgrounds with an open mind, and accept that one’s position in society may never be fully understandable to someone who holds another. It is this empathy that can drive change in the ideologies, which How to Get Away with Murder is effectively working towards achieving.

By: Elyse Reynolds

Word Count: 998

Works Cited

Hall, Stuart. “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media.” Gender Race and

            Class in Media: A Text Reader. Ed. Dines, Gail and Jean M.Humez. California: Sage

Publications, 1995. 18-22. Print.

Milestone, Katie and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Pop Culture. Polity Press, 2012.

Storey, John. “What is Pop Culture?” Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction.

Essex: Person Education Ltd., 2009. 1-15. Print.

How to Get Away with Murder- Oliver defying stereotypes by Kristina Toppari

          Within the many sources of media available today, popular culture plays a critical role in terms of influencing and reflecting people’s views on society. According to John Storey, “…popular culture refers to cultural texts which are symbolic and whose main function is the production of meaning, for example a newspaper article, a television programme or a pop song,” (Milestone and Meyer 3). In the popular culture piece, “How to Get Away with Murder,” produced by Shonda Rhimes, the characters defy harmful stereotypical traits constructed by society and, instead, offer a realistic reflection of everyday individuals. The character, Oliver Hampton, is a homosexual Asian man who is not oppressed in terms of race, class, or sexual orientation. Instead, he defies typical stereotypes associated with his traits and is a powerful, intelligent man who is privileged in many ways. It is important to recognize this unconformity to stereotypes because stereotypes can place people into degrading social categories in which they may feel incapable of escaping from. This unique television series challenges common stereotypes, and proves that oppression from social power systems should not exist based on one’s traits.

         In the television show “How to Get Away with Murder”, the supporting character, Oliver Hampton, is of Asian descent and lives with his boyfriend, Connor. Oliver is a  quiet, smart man who occasionally helps out with murder cases. He is talented in terms of configuring technology, and oversees any technical issues for the company, such as hacking and coding computers. He has a very well paying job, and is considered to be privileged in terms of class. Although Oliver is a homosexual Asian, which are both traits usually associated with oppression rather than privilege; however, he is not represented as oppressed in the television show. Oliver is respected by all his co-workers and is not discriminated against in any sense based on his race. Our current society is white-privileged, so any race other than white is expected to be oppressed. “…The media constructs for us a definition of what race is, what meaning the imagery of race carries, and what the “problem of race” is understood to be. They help to classify out the world in terms of the categories of race,” (Hall 20). Although Oliver works around a population that is predominantly white, he is not faced with many oppressions in terms of his race. Media has created a specific image of what race is, and people are commonly seen as just their race instead of an individual. “How to Get Away with Murder” does not conform to this view, and does not represent their characters though stereotypes, but instead, recognizes the importance of diversity and represents multiple different races without representing them as oppressed.

        Oliver is an open homosexual man on the show “How to Get Away with Murder”. He is in a relationship with one of his coworkers, Conner, and both men are comfortable with their workplace knowing about their relationship. In reality, homosexuality is sometimes seen as being shameful, or something that should be suppressed. Heterosexuality is the dominant, privileged sexual orientation, and any other type of sexual preference is oppressed. “The oppression of straight, gay and transgender people cannot be collapsed into a single account. Straight women do not have to hide their sexuality for fear of violence or discrimination…none of this can be taken for granted by lesbians, bisexual, or transgender persons,” (Murdocca 84). Although Oliver is homosexual, he does not suffer any obvious oppressions based on his sexual orientation on the show. The unique television series challenges the common ideology that society has on homosexuals, and portrays that any type of sexual orientation should be equally respected and privileged.

                Oliver defies common stereotypes that are frequently associated with his specific character traits. It is stereotypical for oppressed groups to suffer in comparison to privileged groups. Popular culture and media have projected specific images of how individuals should be and act based on class, sexual orientation, and race. For example, the majority of male homosexual characters found in popular culture pieces are predominantly white.  This television series shows a representation of homosexuality in multiple races, and challenges the stereotypes that media has on homosexuals. As well, in many popular culture pieces, homosexual men are portrayed as being feminine and weak, while heterosexual men are portrayed as being powerful. “Hegemonic men are associated with strength and power (physical, mental and social), being active and ambitious, tough and competitive, assertive and aggressive…men are represented as going to extremes, seeking success, enjoying excess and experiencing pleasure,” (Milestone and Meyer 20). Oliver does not conform to the typical societal image of being a weak and feminine homosexual man. Instead, Oliver possesses masculine traits. He is strong and intelligent, and dresses in a masculine manner. This television series assigns unique character traits that do not conform to stereotypes to it’s characters; thus, allowing the character Oliver to be represented as an individual rather than just part of a group. This lack of stereotypical traits is a unique characteristic of this television series and carries an important message.

        There are a multitude of popular culture pieces projected in modern society today that reflect the opinions and beliefs of the population. Media can sometimes host harmful stereotypes constructed from these beliefs, that do not necessarily represent reality accurately. In the television series “How to Get Away with Murder”, the character, Oliver Hampton, defies many of the common stereotypes that are associated with specific traits he possesses, such as his race, class and sexual orientation. Oliver is an Asian homosexual man, and is privileged in many ways. This television series offers a unique perspective on popular societal views, and challenges the stereotypes that arise from categorizing social systems as either being privileged or oppressed. This defiance of stereotypes allows people to escape from the confinement of social groups placed by society, and be represented as an individual.

Word count: 1026 words


Literature Cited:

Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print.

Hall, Stuart. The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. California: Sage Publications, 1995. Print.

Murdocca, Carmela. Race, Indigeneity, and Feminism. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2017. Print.

How To Get Away With Murder – Annalise as “The Strong Black Woman”

According to Sewell, popular culture is an “exceptional means for gaining an insight into what masses of people are thinking, feeling and dreaming” (2012). In addition to that, however, popular culture pieces are a range of cultural texts that represent certain ways that society views, and wants us to view different and interlocking systems of power, privilege, and oppression (Milestone and Meyer 2012:5). The television show, How to Get Away with Murder defies many of the societal and popular culture rules by representing their characters in a multitude of different ways that people in society don’t often get to see. Generally, in popular culture, there is an absence of characters that defy the norms and stereotypes that society has conjured up. However, through Annalise Keating, one of the main characters in the show, we can see that How to Get Away With Murder, or HTGAWM, takes a step away from the traditional norm of popular culture and attempts to touch on a very commonly known stereotype of black women known as “The Strong Black Woman”. In this show, Annalise is shown as being a part of and breaking away from this stereotype in very powerful ways. Normalizing diversity and creating a system of equality in popular culture is extremely important because everybody wants to be able to connect with the people that they can identify with and they want there to be someone who accurately represents who they are without being subject to a stereotype. This is why demonstrating how HTGAWM escapes the traditional norms of popular culture through the representation of Annalise Keating as, and in opposition to, the strong black woman, is so important.

             The starting point in understanding how Annalise fits and defies the stereotype of the strong black woman is to understand what exactly this stereotype entails. “Popular culture has a history of representing women as centrally concerned with and in need of love romance and relationships” (ibid:87) however the strong black woman stereotype goes against this completely. Annalise Keating is a black woman; not only does she experience oppression for her skin color but also due to her gender. Although everyone has their own configurations of intersecting privileges and oppressions, in comparison to white women or black men, a black woman, such as Annalise has two intersecting oppressions just within the “black woman” identifier. According to Arthur (2016), the strong black woman typology is a culturally generated stereotype that is enforced in the media and throughout all popular culture outlets by blacks and whites alike. This statement is especially important because it suggests that both white people and black people alike support and reinforce this stereotype. There is an interesting point to be made about the black people who are said to enforce this stereotype. White people generally would enforce this stereotype by believing every aspect of it and then reiterating this to others which would allow a continuance of the belief of the stereotype. However, because popular culture is said to be an insight into other people’s thoughts and beliefs, for black people receiving this depiction of people with they same color skin, they may also begin to believe that this is how they should act and represent themselves. The strong black woman is said to be a fighter, a woman who shows no weakness, nor fear, and is required to be tough, “the sassy friend”, the “overeducated, work-obsessed” always presentable woman (Harris 2014). Now some of these indicators should not be considered as bad and seeing someone you identify with who has some of these characteristics might be very empowering, however, there are a lot of expectations held within this one stereotype.

             Annaliese Keating fits this stereotype in many ways. According to Harris, the “Strong Black Woman” is a cold, overworked, overeducated woman who doesn’t need help. In the show, Annaliese is a defense lawyer who is known for being a manipulative, cold, strong willed, woman. She is seen as a cruel woman who works too hard at her job that she has no personal life and barriers herself in work. She also always refuses help in any way and never allows people to know any weakness that she has. She is an alcoholic and does her very best to hide it from her coworkers. In public, and in particular her job, she only allows people to see her as someone who has no emotion and is just amazing at her job. In this case, she throws herself into the stereotype of the strong black woman. However, according to Arthur (2016), this stereotype was developed as a defense mechanism against the negative stereotypes that black women would encounter. Not only does Annaliese have to deal with the stereotypes and oppressions of being a woman and being weak and fragile and inadequate in comparison to men, she also must deal with all the negative aspects that people attach to a black woman. This is an interesting point in the sense that Arthur is suggesting that black women support and try to fit into this stereotype in order to deflect representations of the other negative stereotypes that are out there. So overall, Annalise fits into the stereotype of the “strong black woman” by being a cold, overworked woman who hides her emotions in order to deflect other stereotypes that are created by the interlocking systems of power, privilege, and oppression.

             On the other hand, however, How To Get Away With Murder defies the usual representations of black women in popular culture by portraying a very different side of black women that opposes the stereotype of the strong black woman. The stereotype states that black women can’t show emotion and they aren’t allowed a time to be vulnerable and afraid. They are never shown as someone who has moments of weakness and moments when they can’t keep is together and they fall apart. Everyone has these moments and for white women, that is okay and it is represented as such, however black women are not granted these moments through the eyes of popular culture and society. Annalise Keating, however, breaks away from these societal rules and has many moments in the show where she shows great weakness. There is one episode where she is having a breakdown and had just found out that her husband had killed a teenage girl and before she was going to confront her husband she sat down in front of the mirror and took off her weave and her makeup and just sat there and shed a tear and looked at herself and there was such a moment of vulnerability and sorrow that she let out which defies all of the rules of being a “strong black woman” that society has set.

             So, in conclusion, Annalise Keating is a strong advocate and opposition of the strong black woman stereotype. Annalise has used the strong black woman stereotype to try and escape the negatives that society has attached to being a woman, let alone a black woman. She also defied this stereotype by showing herself as vulnerable and in a moment of weakness that was ironically empowering. “Popular culture has helped to produce much of the racial imagery with which we are so familiar today” which is why it is so important that popular culture has depictions of black women in very real ways (2007). There will never be just one way to represent a woman or black woman, and there will never be a representation that accurately represents every part of women and their lives but this was a huge step forward. Annalise was an empowering character for all. By defying and advocating as the strong black woman she showed that is was okay to be vulnerable and afraid and to show weakness when you feel weak but she also showed that it was good to be strong and show people that the oppressions you face in life can be fought and you can be seen as tough and do amazing things in your life whether or no you are a woman or a person of color. In How To Get Away With Murder, they showed an empowering black woman as both strong and weak which is what popular culture needs more of; accurate representations and a diverse range of characters that people can connect with.

– By: Alyssa Wichers



Word Count: 1285

Works Cited:

Arthur, S. For Black Women, Looking Tough Takes A Toll. 2016, Aug 12. Recorder Retrieved from

Harris, Tamara Winfrey. The Truth Behind the “Strong Black Woman” Stereotype. Alternet. 06 Nov. 2014. 

Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender & Popular Culture. Malden: Polity Press, 2012. Print.

Solomos, John and Les Back. Race and Popular Culture. Race and Racialization: essential Readings. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 2007. 247-256.Print.


Upstairs Inferno: The LGBT Community’s Tragic History



TA: Sarah Carneiro

Jesse Mayo





Upstairs Inferno is a documentary style film depicting the events of the 1973 LGBT massacre that took place in a gay bar called the Upstairs in New Orleans, Louisiana. The film aims to share the stories of the survivors of this tragic incidence. As an audience, we are introduced to many different people that were involved in the tragedy. Some were there themselves while others had friends, family, or lovers die in the fire. The bar itself was heavily involved with the Metropolitan Community Church – this became complicated as many church members were injured or killed in the blaze. The tragedy was not over when the fire went out – for many it continued on into their personal lives. Many were required to act as if they hadn’t heard about the fire in order to protect their identities. When members of the LGBT community wanted to hold a memorial service for those who passed in the fire, they were turned down by many churches and almost had to give up hope. The fire permanently altered the lives of those involved and for many, this documentary was the first opportunity to talk about the event.

In a historical context, it is important to discuss tragic events such as this one. In the case of the Upstairs fire, the arsonist was never arrested or tried. With this knowledge, we are able to draw an important comparison between this tragedy and that of the Orlando shooting of 2016. The shooter in this case ended his own life, but the investigation did not stop there. His wife was later arrested and charged with aiding and abetting as well as obstruction of justice. This is an important comparison to make as it demonstrates how times have changed and evolved in reaction to anti-LGBT hate crimes.

From an intersectional viewpoint, Upstair Inferno is an interesting film. The people featured in the documentary are predominantly white, Christian, men. While this is not surprising considering where the tragedy took place – Louisiana – it raises the question of whether there were people of other identities present or not. There is one black person mentioned, although he is simply the deceased lover of one of the victims featured in the documentary. Otherwise, the only other person of colour mentioned is the bishop of a church who allows the community to hold their memorial service in his church. Other than this, it is not mentioned specifically how this tragedy may have differently affected the people of colour involved or what role they played. This is interesting because near the beginning of the documentary, it is mentioned how the owner of the bar wanted it to be a safe space for not just the LGBT community, but other marginalized groups as the 70’s in New Orleans was a high time for racial discrimination.

In terms of gender, the people featured in the documentary are almost all men. This is important to acknowledge because the Upstairs was intended to be a bar not just for gay men, but also local lesbians. The website for the documentary even cites that it is an “incredibly important chapter in gay and lesbian history”. The audience once again is left to wonder whether women were present at all and if so, were they simply left out of the documentary? Why? 

       The representation of the men in this documentary is atypical of the way men are usually portrayed in the media. In Gender and Popular Culture (2012), it is outlined that men typically hold powerful roles and are majorly masculine. However, in Upstairs Inferno, many of the men are seen breaking down in tears as they recall the tragic events of what happened in 1973. The documentary uses this abnormality to effect the audience – the shock of seeing men in such a vulnerable state helps to drive in the point of the creators of the film. It helps the audience understand how tragic the event truly was and how it affected all of those involved.

The film itself acts as a critique of the way life was in 1973 New Orleans. There are many instances in the documentary where the audience gets a glimpse into the regular life of an LGBT-identified person in New Orleans. The city at the time was overtly homophobic, which stunted the healing of many people who were affected by the tragedy. After the tragedy, the mayor of the town refused to acknowledge what had happened and did not release a statement. Many of the people involved in the tragedy were forced to hide their involvement for their own safety. Those who did not keep it a secret faced consequences such as job losses, public ridicule, fear and disapproving families. Analyzing the effects of this 1973 tragedy is important as we are able to see how we have grown in some ways in terms of accepting difference, and how we have failed in other ways. In many ways, the Upstairs arson in similar to other tragedies the LGBT community has faced in more recent years.

In conclusion, Upstairs Inferno is an important historical documentary that provides the audience an insight into LGBT history and how it has shaped how to community operates today.


Word Count: 861

Works Cited
Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Popular Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2012. Print.
“Upstairs Inferno.” Upstairs Inferno. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Being 17

 A Reelout film review

By: Kristina Toppari

Film summary:

         The film Being 17 is a French Drama that was released in February 2016. The film was directed by Andre Techiné and stars the main characters Damien, Thomas and Marianne played by Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila and Sandrine Kimberlaine, respectively. This film follows the story of two outcast High School boys, Damien and Thomas, and their developing relationship with each other.

           Thomas, a bi-racial 17-year-old boy, lives in the isolated mountains with his adoptive parents. At school, Thomas can be described as a loner and an outcast. He does not have many friends, and he rarely socializes with anyone in a positive manner. Similarly, Damien is also an outcast, and he and Thomas frequently fight at school.  Marianne, Damien’s mother, is a doctor and often makes house calls to Thomas’s house for his ill mother. Marianne notices that Thomas is struggling academically, and invites him to stay with her family so he can focus better.

                At first, when the two boys are living in the same household, their situation does not improve. They continue to fight and hurt each other. However, over time the boys develop a very close relationship and fall in love with each other.

Intersectional Essay:

             In the film Being 17 by Andre Techiné the two main characters, Thomas and Damien, struggle to accept the love they have for one another. Through an intersectional lens, one boy, Damien, experiences more privileges than the other boy, Thomas, who faces oppressions. Although these two characters are very different, and through an ideological view would dislike each other, they overcome these social differences and love one another for who they are.

                Racism is evident in the film Being 17, and can even be viewed through an intersectional lens as a series of privileges and oppressions. At High School, Thomas and Damien frequently get into fights and beat each other up. After a violent encounter, the principal brought in the two boys to his office in hopes of solving the issue. When the principal is addressing the boys, he aims to determine which one of them is the bully so he can address punishments appropriately. With no valid evidence, the principal automatically assumes that it is Thomas, the bi-racial boy who is the bully causing all of the problems. A similar dilemma occurred from the Central Park Case, where 4 black men were falsely accused of beating a white woman. “In the weeks and months after the Central Park case, various African American media effectively criticized the racist portrayals of the alleged rapists but also attacked the credibility of the victim…the white-dominated media continued to play on the racist stereotypes that have been used throughout U.S. history to justify lynching, such as stereotypes of dark men desiring and preying on innocent white womanhood” (Murdocca 81). In both examples, the black man is falsely accused of crime due to his race. Thomas is oppressed in terms of race, and Damien is privileged because he does not get punished for his violent actions, just because he is white. 

                In the film Being 17, there is a difference of classes that separate the two main characters in terms of privilege and oppression. Thomas’s family is not very well off, and is considered of lower class compared to Damien’s family who is well off.  Thomas lives in a small, wooden shack isolated in the mountains, and his family lives off of very basic needs. When Thomas’s mother discovers she is pregnant, there is concern of how they are going to manage money wise. Damien lives in town with his parents in a nice, suburban area. They have access to all of the latest technology, and do not have to worry about finances. At school, Thomas and Damien are treated differently based on their class. Peers frequently assume that Thomas is a dishonest, troubled adolescent based on his looks, and he gets picked on because of it. “We continue to observe today that both victims and perpetrators are treated differently depending on the specificities of their identities and not just the specificities of the crime… At a minimum we need to bring in race and class along with gender in order to unpack the varied public responses to crime” (Murdocca 77). Thomas gets subjected from his peers based on his class. This is not a problem for Damien, who is of higher class, and is privileged in that sense.

          Based on how far apart these boys are situated on a spectrum of social power, it would be appropriate to assume that Damien and Thomas would not like each other, and would not get along. Although this is true for the beginning of the film, towards the end, the boys overcome this ideology and accept their love for one another. Ideology can be defined as intended “…to draw attention to the way in which texts always present a particular image of the world… A second definition suggests a certain masking, distortion, or concealment” (Storey 3). Ideology is a particular view that society has on specific groups of people or individuals. In this case, it would be ideological to assume the boys would hate each other. Damien and Thomas fight this ideology and go against the views of society by forming a homosexual relationship with each other and falling in love.

           Instead of confining to society’s popular beliefs, the main characters in the film Being 17 disprove an ideological view. The boys develop a homosexual relationship and fall in love with each other, despite their social power differences. Damien and Thomas’s story teaches us that we can move beyond the confines of society’s popular beliefs, and instead believe in what feels right and true.

Word Count: 986 words

Literature Cited:

Murdocca, Carmela. Race, Indigeneity, and Feminism. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2017.78-103. Print. [C.P]

Storey, John. What is Popular Culture? Essex: Pearson Education, 2009. 1-14. Print. [C.P.]











Girl Gets Girl – Challenges and Acceptance. By: Elyse Reynolds

Girl Gets Girl directed by Sonia Sebastian is a comedic gem that explores what happens when relationships get mangled and hearts get broken. This film follows Ines, a middle aged Lesbian and her visit home to Spain, after cheating on her partner, unravelling her multiple affairs. Once arriving home, the film takes place at her previous partner’s house where they are hosting a party, for friends and family that identify with multiple different sexual orientations. It is during this party where secrets are revealed and the complications of all of her previous actions come to surface. Opposite of typical Hollywood cinema, this film centers around the lives of a group of LGBTQ characters placing the only heterosexual couple, out of the norm. Girl Gets Girl, creates dominant ideologies in the perspective of the LGBTQ, challenging heteronormativity, while still adhering to multiple hegemonic representations. This approach although, contrasting to socially constructed portrayals in the media, remains biased to the heteronormative views of society.

This film challenges the cultural norms before the character’s even step in the frame. In “Gender and Popular Culture,” Katie Milestone and Anneke Meyer explain the patriarchal dominance that is held within the film industry. Men hold power not only on screen when casted as lead roles, but off screen as producers and directors. This leaves females to take supporting acting roles and smaller production roles which hold less control (Milestone and Meyer 53). Instead, Girl Gets Girl takes on a matriarchal dominance, with a female director, female lead and only three male roles in comparison to the eleven women in the cast.

The film places Javier and Bianca – the only heterosexual couple at the party – out of place, alienating them and therefore, contradicting the usual Hollywood portrayal of the heterosexual couple represented as normative. Throughout the film, the traditional hegemonic masculine and feminine ideologies are shown through this couple. Javier is surprised to discover that Candela is his daughter during the party, and as he goes to talk to her, he does not know what to say or how to approach being a father. Meanwhile, Bianca, who is expecting, intervenes to help Javier comfort Candela instead. Portraying Javier as incapable of handling the situation of acting caring and supportive alone. This interaction supports the idea that “Bringing up children is a woman’s job. As a consequence, motherhood is important to women’s identities in a way that fatherhood is not for men.” (Milestone and Meyer 105). As well, Bianca is seen as the homemaker from the start, as she brings in the neatly wrapped gift she wrapped herself and talks of how she was born to be a mother. Meanwhile, Javier is seen as tough and aggressive, and not emotionally attached to the drama that unfolds. Both characters follow the socially constructed traditional masculinities and femininities seen in today’s media, while being challenged by the alienation from those at the party.

Although the displacement of Javier and Bianca is a refreshing break from mainstream cinema, the film challenges the feminine ideal even more when it attaches discourses of masculinity to the Lesbian women. The hegemonic idea of femininity includes descriptions such as “fragile, weak, difficult to assert themselves or shy away from confrontation” (Milestone and Meyer 20). Ines contradicts these descriptions, as she does not shy away from confrontation and instead, takes it head on by showing up at the party with all her previous partners. “Women are constructed as wanting romance and long term commitment, while men are portrayed as focused on casual sex and avoidance of commitment” (Milestone and Meyer 87). Ines’s history of relationships follows the male sex drive stereotype, deviating her from the female commitment ideology.

Another character which challenges the norm, is Ines’s previous partner Becky who is a police officer. Males are normally casted in police roles which hold power, control and strength yet, Becky is now the one who holds the power associated with masculinity. The issue surrounds the following statement, when discussing the portrayal of female police roles. “Few exceptions tend to compromise female police officers by aligning them with gendered crime such as rape, or showing them preoccupied with their private lives.” (Milestone and Meyer 138). The empowerment of female strength that is attached to that role, is compromised Becky she pulls a gun on Ines for cheating on her, sacrificing her job for her private life.

Sexual objectification is explored in this film in the LGBTQ perspective, reversing societal norms. Sexual objectification takes a heteronormative stance, by sexualizing women in the eyes of the male gaze (Baba). During a scene, you see a female character being looked at objectively poolside, while wind blows in her hair as she lays down in her bikini. It is only till the camera reveals the character gazing at her is a female as well, changing the perspective and challenging the ideology. The switch from male to female gaze although different, still encompasses the negative objectification of a human that is an issue no matter what the sex.

Girl Gets Girl attempts to send the message of acceptance as it’s take away. Ines tells a story to Candela of a female superhero who was different and discovered her greatest power was accepting she was different. Through all the drama, relationship ties, and everything that goes wrong at the party, it ends in acceptance and appreciation for the family they have created. The comedic approach poking fun at heteronormative representations and LGBTQ stereotypes, created an entertaining and more light hearted approach. Though, it is important to be aware of the reality that underlies the humour. The deviation from societal norms when it comes to diverse characters of different sexual orientations and reversed representations provided a refreshing break from blockbuster cinema. However, this films lacks diversity when it comes to race and class status. Overall, this film reminds the audience of the hegemonic ideologies in which society upholds which remain bias towards heteronormative perspectives.

Word Count: 989

Work Cited

Baba, Habibe Burcu. “Gendered Representations; Masculinities.” Lecture. 31 Janurary 2017, Queens University.

Milestone, Katie and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Pop Culture. Polity Press, 2012.

Reelout Film Festival; A Refreshing Break From Typical Hollywood Cinema

The Reelout Film Festival was a refreshing break from typical Hollywood cinema. The festival is clearly targeting a niche group of people in the community – from our experiences, we found that it was outside what we had become comfortable within popular culture. We had gotten used to the routine that comes with visiting a normal theater – you buy tickets, get food, sit down and watch trailers. At the festival, the set up was quite different. Upon entering the theater, music was playing and people who just met were socializing. In most of our films, the coordinators chose to play music by Sia. We found that this was significant because Sia has become an influential advocate for LGBT equality. Before the films, a slideshow was on the screen which showed advertisements for local queer groups and information for local support services for marginalized groups. There was a large variety of people in the audience – we had expected mostly students, but were surprised to see a lot of variance in race, gender, and age. At all of our films, the head coordinator of the festival introduced the films and mentioned sponsors such as EQUIP and Queen’s Pride Project. He also recognized the directors/creators of the films which were very different from typical Hollywood cinema, where the creators are usually not acknowledged until the rolling credits. We found giving the credit to the individuals responsible for the creation of these films important in acknowledging their achievements. It also helped us as an audience, better understand where the stories being told were coming from. He also provided us with a short history of the festival as a whole, helping us appreciate the struggles that have been overcome, along with the empowerment and support this community has brought to its members throughout the years. Another aspect that contributed to the sense of community was the venue. It was much smaller than normal theaters, which made it a more personal experience. In conclusion, we all found that attending Reelout Film Festival was very rewarding and educational. We were grateful for the opportunity to attend the festival as a part of this class, as it exposed us to taking part in the Reelout community in which none of us had previously been aware of its existence. It was an unfamiliar experience that brought with it, a newfound appreciation for the Reelout Film Festival community as a whole.

-Alyssa Wichers, Jesse Mayo, Elyse Reynolds, Kristina Toppari